Heaven is not Closed by Bessie Head
In Heaven is not Closed by Bessie Head we have the theme of faith, acceptance, fear, power, alienation, ignorance, love, tradition and contentment. Taken from her The Collector of Treasures collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Head may be exploring the theme of contentment, faith and acceptance. Though Galenthebege has passed away there is a sense that she was content prior to dying. Her death was peaceful with no anxiety for either Galenthebege or those who visited her. So content was Galenthebege that she was able to sit up in bed when visitors came to visit her. She had no feelings of remorse or self-pity. If anything the reader does not feel as though Galenthebege was struggling in any way with acceptance for the position she found herself in. Which suggests that Galenthebege had peace of mind (or contentment) at the time she was dying. There is also a sense that Galenthebege had a faith in something bigger than herself (God) which was leading her and reassuring her at the time she died. Where many may fear dying Galenthebege didn’t. It is also noticeable that Galenthebege, throughout the story and not only at the time of her death, accepts what might happen to her particularly when it comes to the Christian missionary who excommunicates her from the Church. Rather than fight the missionary Galenthebege because of her love for Ralokae accepts the position she finds herself in. It might also be important that Galenthebege never stops praying to God despite having been excommunicated as this would again suggest that Galenthebege has a strong faith. She may be ostracized from the Church but she is not ostracized from God.
The missionary is also a pivotal character. As readers we notice that he does not accept or respect Setswana traditions and if anything he may view the customs and traditions as being archaic and of no use. In essence he is not welcoming of those who practice Setswana customs and alienates them from the Church. It is also noticeable that the missionary acts more like a conqueror than he does a Christian. Viewing those who practice Setswana traditions as being unworthy of being allowed into Heaven. There is no sense of equality between the people in the village and the Christian missionary. He is aloof and believes that the only path to God is through his teachings and the practices of his Church. Just as those who practice Setswana traditions may find the missionary alien to them so too are those in the village who don’t practice Christianity alien to the missionary. He is not open minded or accepting of a tradition that is not in line with his own teachings.
Throughout the story there is a sense that the missionary is ignorant of others. Something that is noticeable when it comes to the struggles that Galenthebege encounters when she wishes to get married. At no stage is the missionary flexible nor does he leave the door of the Church open to Galenthebege. In the missionary’s eyes Galenthebege is not married nor is she able to ascend to Heaven because she is choosing to marry Ralokae outside of the Church and in the Setswana tradition. The fact that Galenthebege chooses to marry Ralokae outside the Church may also be important as it suggests that she has a deep love for him and has not completely forgotten the traditions she practiced or saw practiced prior to converting to Christianity. Galenthebege has not forgotten where she has come from which may suggest that she has a degree of humility. She has not forgotten who she is nor is she prepared to follow the directive of the missionary who as the reader is aware does not treat those in the village in a manner which would be described as Christian. If anything the missionary believes that he has absolute power.
The end of the story is also interesting as Head appears to be exploring the theme of fear. Through the narrator we learn that Galenthebege may have continued to pray because she was afraid that Ralokae may not get into Heaven. What is interesting about any fear that Galenthebege may have had is the fact that she may have learnt, through the missionary, that those who didn’t practice the Christian faith were not worthy of going to heaven. If this is the case it is possible that Head is suggesting that any fear that Galenthebege had about Ralokae getting to Heaven has been driven by the malpractices of the missionary. Rather than accepting the traditions of others the Christian faith that is practiced in the village is one that is unwelcoming to those of different beliefs. In essence the missionary through his teachings may be suggesting that he and the Church alone have a monopoly when it comes to those who get into Heaven. If anything the missionary is not only putting himself on a pedestal and considering himself better than others but he may also be suggesting that the Church is the sole avenue of travel for those who wish to go to Heaven. Which again would suggest that the missionary (and the Church) consider themselves to be the only guardians of faith. Throughout the story the missionary has shown himself to be prejudicial to others who do not have the same beliefs as him. Yet Galenthebege has lived her life communicating with God even though she has been excommunicated by the missionary. Even without the assistance of the Church Galenthebege has shown herself to be a believer in God.